Fr. Peter Daly
It's confirmation season in most parishes. Bishops are out riding the circuit. Directors of Religious Education are hyperventilating, getting their young charges ready to be interrogated by the successors of the apostles.
Boys are buying their first real suits. Girls wearing their first formal dresses. Parents and "young adults" are arguing about hairstyles and whether Jr. can wear his new earring (or nose ring) when he goes up to have the Bishop lay hands on him.
In our parish Confirmation will take place in a big striped tent. For the second year in a row, we have overflowed the walls of our little church. I actually like these open air confirmations. They have a nice feel about them, with the breeze, like the Holy Spirit, blowing where it will. The tent evokes the feel of an evangelical revival, filled with Pentecostal fervor, in the power of the Holy Spirit. You can almost hear the preaching of the apostle Peter's to the crowd on the first Pentecost.
Some of our young people are reduced to nail biting when they contemplate the traditional grilling they will receive from the Bishop in front of family and friends before he lays on hands. I have wondered if we do this in the right order. Maybe we should confirm first and ask questions later. Since the gifts of the Holy Spirit include "wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge" it might make more sense. Then we could see the these spiritual gift of grace at work immediately.
In recent years it has been a common complaint among parents, D.R.E., and clergy that today's confirmandi are not well prepared. It does seem that they are a little weak on some doctrinal content. Certainly they cannot recite the catechism responses the way kids could 40 years ago. But this does not mean they are not interested in things religious or poorly prepared. Their grasp today is more experiential than intellectual. In some ways they have a better hold of the central commandments of the Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor.
In love of God, they see much better than I ever did at their age that prayer is a spontaneous act of love for God. For example, last year our adolescent theologians attended "Youth 2000", a retreat program for young Catholics. They were so impressed with the nighttime prayer vigil and Eucharistic adoration, that they wanted to replicate it in our own parish. This year they held an all night lock-in (sleep over) in the parish center, which included, on their own initiative, an Eucharistic chapel set up in our parish library. During the night they took turns praying in shifts for the prayer intentions they had collected from the parish for several weeks before. It was touching to see them so sleepy eyed in those huge baggy pants and oversized "T" shirts, kneeling and sitting in prayer all night.
In love of neighbor, I think they have a good understanding of the demands of both justice and charity. When I was confirmed back in 1961, we may have memorized the corporal works of mercy, but we never thought that getting ready for confirmation might actually require us to do the corporal works of mercy. Today in our parish, like most parishes, young people know that confirmation requires service.
On their own initiative, our young teens organized a blanket drive and gave out blankets, gloves, underwear and sandwiches to the homeless in Washington, D. C. They have also helped to plant trees, clean the parish cemetery and fix up homes of the elderly.
They know through doing what I only knew in the telling 40 years ago. That certainly is a wisdom and piety worth celebrating this confirmation season.